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Wilhelt's Frosty Zombie Aristocrats

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"Boy, it disturbs me to see you, Wilhelt,

Feelin' so down and dismayed.

Every corpse here'd love to be ya, Wilhelt,

Even though they're half-decayed!

There's no corpse in town half unhallowed as you,

You're everyone's favorite undead.

No other wraith's quite as shallow as you,

Something's clearly wrong with Gisa's head!

No...one's...a ghoul like Wilhelt!

Plays the fool like Wilhelt!

Is so dark and so hopelessly cruel like Wilhelt!

I'M ESPECIALLY GOOD AT E-VIS-CER-A-TING!

Cleave all that rot,

for Wilhelt!

For there's no zombie half as love smitten

Pathetic! A dolt and a sham!

He's tried ever since he was first bitten,

But Gisa still thinks that his name is Wilham.

Special thanks to @kilnfiendpotter, @S_SecretGamer, and @MFathering for their ideas and contributions to the song!

Zombies get a bad rep. Sure, they're rotting predators who hunger endlessly for human flesh. But despite the belligerent demeanor and equally offensive smell, you've gotta admire their sheer persistence. Knock a zombie down and it'll get right back up. Sometimes in multiple pieces. That sort of determination is something to respect. And no zombie is as determined as Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver.

Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver

Before starting his occupation as an unhallowed-walker, Wilhelt was an arrogant, burly town lumberjack. We all know the type: pounds energy drinks like water, owns a collection of trucker hats, and stands in front of the mirror at the gym so they can watch themselves work out. Throughout his life, Wilhelt prided himself on an ability to woo any lady. Then he set out to win the heart of one Ghoulcaller Gisa.

Gisa, Glorious Resurrector by Yongjae Choi

The courtship is sure to go swimmingly.

Amazingly, the still-human Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver wasn't immediately killed and zombified by Gisa. She simply ignored him. To most, this would seem a blessing. Few escape the clutches of Gisa Cecani with their mortality intact. Unfortunately for Wilhelt, his mighty ego suffered a worse bite than any zombie could've ever dealt. The rejection baffled him to the point that he didn't quite pay enough attention to the tree he was in the process of cutting down. Let's just say no one was around to shout "Timber!" in time.

Tree of Perdition

Must've been this tree. It's caused nothing but misery from the moment it was printed.

But a broken heart and several accompanying ribs weren't enough to keep Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver down. He mustered up that time-tested zombie determination and returned from the grave with the ability to resurrect other corpses, too. His brand of zombie lacks the durability of Gisa's, tending to fall apart rather easily, but Wilhelt is able to raise them in ample volumes. And it's this very theme that leads us to today's deck!

Bring disinfectant

Innistrad: Midnight Hunt's preconstructed "Undead Unleashed" deck looks to harness Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver's zombie army as more of an attack force via a plethora of Lords (Tomb Tyrant, Death Baron, Cemetery Reaper, Lord of the Accursed, Diregraf Captain, Gleaming Overseer). The deck can certainly make decayed zombies very big, but elevated stats do little to prevent them from falling apart after a single swing. As such, rather than focus on making our zombies bigger, today's strategy will favor quantity over quality. If we can't make durable zombies, we'll find ways to use copious ones. And few strategies are more adept at recycling numerous creatures than

Aristocrats!

Blood Artist
Pitiless Plunderer
Viscera Seer

Aristocrats looks to sacrifice its own army for value, trading creatures for cards, damage, or ideally, even more creatures to feed to the machine. As the game grinds on, incremental value builds and builds, with each creature's demise making you more powerful. Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver is a perfect fit for this tactic, as he both provides a steady stream of zombies and refills your hand along the way. For extra flavor, we'll add a dash of Snow to the mix, as few things are colder than getting shot down by someone who literally hangs out with dead people all day. Black has many zombie-centric tools in the frosty department that play into this thematic angle.

Blood on the Snow by Martina Fackova

Love is a battlefield.

Let's start by breaking down our Commander:

Gravecrawler
Ebondeath, Dracolich
Narfi, Betrayer King

1. In proper Aristocrats fashion, we want plenty of fodder for sacrifice, followed by resulting profit. Wilhelt happily provides each, turning each dead zombies into yet another zombie. This essentially lets us double our sacrificial offerings, and thus double the value we churn from the engine we assemble. Not every creature in our deck is zombie, but the vast majority are. And many of those zombies like Master of Death, Ebondeath, Dracolich, and Gravecrawler can easily climb back out of the grave once sacrificed, allowing them to repeatedly make additional zombies to throw onto the pyre.

Relentless Dead
Cryptbreaker
Undead Alchemist

2. Especially vital is how Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver doesn't say "nontoken" when it comes to making zombies, meaning even run-of-the-mill 2/2 zombie tokens can result in newly-decayed zombies. This means that creatures who already produced multiple zombie tokens (Relentless Dead, Cryptbreaker, Undead Alchemist) just got a 2x multiplier. Combined with our recursive zombies, and we've got a lot of rotted fuel to work with!

3. Putting together an effective Aristocrats build is a tricky balance of enabler and payoff. We need enough bodies to sacrifice, but also enough payoffs to make all that death and destruction worthwhile. Without a way to capitalize, we're filling up our graveyard for nothing. Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver acts as both enabler and payoff. We've already touched upon his token creation, but Wilhelt also allows us to cash in a zombie for an extra card during our end step. This is a huge advantage. And one that's incredibly easy to achieve. That said, we'll certainly need other payoffs...

Vengeful Dead
Sadistic Hypnotist

4. Drawing cards with Wilhelt is nice, but we want some venomously-potent nastiness to really make life miserable once we start sacrificing things. We'll certainly chip in for attack-damage where we can, but our main source of bloodletting will be via the likes of Zulaport Cutthroat, Blood Artist, The Meathook Massacre, Vengeful Dead, and other such monstrosities. While our 'bleeder' creatures suck away opposing life, other forces like Grave Pact, Sadistic Hypnotist and Dictate of Erebos will ensure enemy resources are equally depleted.

Ashnod's Altar
Blasting Station

5. Finally, aside from our general, we want plenty of other trash-compactors to recycle our zombies into value. Sacrificing engines like Viscera Seer, Ashnod's Altar, and Blasting Station provide immediate value upon sacrificing creatures, and said value will likely be repeated over and over via how quickly we can spawn tokens.

That covered, it's time to get down to bloody, brain-chomping business!

Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver by Chris Rallis

Wilhelt's Frosty Zombie Aristocrats | Commander | Matthew Lotti


Gruesome as our forces appear at first glance, they're actually quite the intricate lot. The right balance of tools is needed to reliably build a lethal engine. Wilhelt amplifies both our enablers and payoffs, but he doesn't provide enough of either close out the game on his own. We'll need to grab the stitching needle and cobble together an assortment of diabolic engines to back him up. That each game is likely see a different murderous construct emerge is deliciously fitting for a zombie deck.

Fuel for the Hellfire: Staring off with our creatures, we'll want three varieties of soldier: Those meant to be sacrificed, those who do the sacrificing, and those who benefit from all the death. Unsurprisingly, there's more than a little overlap.

Gravecrawler
Master of Death
Havengul Lich

We first meet those who exist to walk into the meat grinder. But not all is tragic, for many of these ghouls like Haunted Dead, Gravecrawler, Master of Death, Narfi, Betrayer King, Relentless Dead, and Ebondeath, Dracolich have the stubborn habit of getting right back up from the grave and returning to play. Like I said, gotta admire that zombie determination! These creatures all enable multiple sacrifices from single cards, which in turn can generate a ton of decayed zombies. Other troops like Havengul Lich, Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, Draugr Necromancer, Gisa and Geralf, Cryptbreaker, Undead Alchemist and (naturally) Gisa, Glorious Resurrector allows us to produce or resurrect multiple zombies, even the occasional undead foe stolen from our opponents!

Priest of Forgotten Gods
Sidisi, Undead Vizier
Viscera Seer

Next up, our creatures that deal in death and perform the bloody acts, themselves. Viscera Seer, Sadistic Hypnotist, Priest of Forgotten Gods, and Sidisi, Undead Vizier directly allow us to eat our own creatures for value. And with no mana investment needed!

Pitiless Plunderer
Zulaport Cutthroat
Champion of the Perished

Speaking of mana generation, let's talk about those creatures who profit from all the gloom, starting with Pitiless Plunderer. This pirate may be mortal, but his ability to produce Treasure tokens for each death allows for game-winning combo shenanigans with likes Gravecrawler, a sacrifice engine, and something like Vindictive Vampire, Blood Artist, Vengeful Dead, Plague Belcher, or Zulaport Cutthroat. Instant life-drain for all opponents. Or, if you'd prefer to deliver the final blow via smashing face, you could use this same combo to grow an infinitely-large Champion of the Perished and attack for leagues-beyond-lethal.

Phyrexian Altar
Spawning Pit
Rooftop Storm

Open the Necronomicon: We'll back up our creatures with even more enablers and payoffs. Starting with enabling engines, the likes of Phyrexian Altar provides an amazing substitute for the pirate-payoff above, acting as both sacrifice outlet and source of mana for repeated casting of Gravecrawler. Other sacrifice engines include Spawning Pit (infinite 2/2 zombies!), Blasting Station (infinite damage!), and Ashnod's Altar, which unfortunately cannot produce the black mana necessary to power the Gravecrawler combo, but nonetheless has massive mana-generation potential. Rooftop Storm may not be a sacrifice engine, or produce mana on its own, but when all our zombies are suddenly free, who cares!? Yet another wicked combo component.

The Meathook Massacre
Dictate of Erebos
Diabolic Intent

Bear in mind, even without the Gravecrawler combo, we can still generate a ton of zombies to trigger all manner of brutal effect. Payoffs like The Meathook Massacre and Bastion of Remembrance provide additional life-drain, Dictate of Erebos and Grave Pact keep opposing armies stone dead, and the mighty Skullclamp turns dead zombies into even more cards. Speaking of which, Plumb the Forbidden and Cemetery Recruitment are included for card advantage, and Diabolic Intent provides a sac-effect on top of letting us find a combo piece. And once our graveyard is full, a timely Agadeem's Awakening // Agadeem, the Undercrypt or Rise of the Dark Realms may allow us to simply take the game on the spot.

Dead of Winter
Necrotic Hex
Living Death

Sinister Support: Like with any engine, even with the plethora of pieces we've discussed above, time is necessary. We need to both find everything and stay alive long enough to assemble the parts. Mass removal like Toxic Deluge, Dead of Winter, and the aforementioned The Meathook Massacre allow us to eliminate even Indestructible threats. Other mass removal like Blood on the Snow, Kindred Dominance, Living Death, and Necrotic Hex will often leave us with one or more threats untouched by the blast wave.

Lazotep Plating
Malakir Rebirth // Malakir Mire

With all this artillery, some defensive measures are also in order. Lazotep Plating and Malakir Rebirth // Malakir Mire offer immediate protection, while something like Spawning Pit allows us to cash in creatures that would otherwise die for even more tokens, which can then in turn be sacrificed, producing more decayed zombies. And so forth.

Soul Manipulation
Countersquall
Drown in the Loch

Finally, it wouldn't be Blue/Black without a dash of control. Soul Manipulation, Countersquall, and Drown in the Loch are included to halt unexpected threats, and Imprisoned in the Moon is brought aboard to neutralize opposing commanders without outright killing them, preventing them from being recast.

Black Market
Talisman of Dominance
Culling the Weak

Mana Support and Rocks: Our mana is made up of the usual assortment of on-color (Talisman of Dominance, Arcane Signet) and flat-out efficient (Sol Ring, Mind Stone) rocks, though we do include some noteworthy ingredients into the mix. With all the sacrificing, Black Market stands to generate an explosive amount of mana, especially after a board wipe. It counts all creatures that die, not just our own, so don't let its 5-mana cost give you pause. Black Market will often generate at least that much mana on each of your turns. If not more.

Crowded Crypt

On a similar note is Crowded Crypt, an on-color mana rock that you can later cash in for a veritable graveyard-full of zombie tokens. The crypt only counts your own fallen creatures, not your opponents', but because the effect is stapled onto a mana rock, the opportunity cost is insanely low. When even our mana rocks support our game plan, we're in good shape.

Unholy Grotto
Phyrexian Tower
Morphic Pool

Finally, when it comes to lands, we aim for Snow-Covered Islands and Snow-Covered Swamps to support our Snow synergies, with all other lands either helping to fix our mana (Polluted Delta, Morphic Pool, Command Tower) or generate additional card advantage. When it comes to the latter, Volrath's Stronghold, Port of Karfell, and Unholy Grotto provide recursion, Phyrexian Tower yet another sacrifice outlet, and Castle Locthwain a source of raw card draw.

Living Death by Charles Gillespie

Budget Options: Even though our undead army is half-decayed, it's still surprisingly expensive. You'd think a little duct tape would be enough to hold all those corpses together, but no dice. Still, it doesn't mean the more budget-conscious necromancer is out of luck. All cards over $20 will be noted and recommended for swap-outs. If anything strikes you as interesting, give it a roll, budget or no! When it comes to Commander, I'm of the mind that creativity comes first.

Creatures: [[Mikaeus, the Unhallowed]]: $50.00, [[Relentless Dead]]: $30.00

Graveyard Marshal
Ghoulcaller Gisa
Carrion Feeder

Zombies are one of Magic's oldest tribes, so even if the raw-power of Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and Relentless Dead place them outside of our budget, we've plentiful options to choose from. If you're looking for sheer numbers, tribal support like Graveyard Marshal, Gisa Ghoulcaller, Josu Vess, Lich Knight, Diregraf Colossus, and good old Grave Titan are happy to bolster the ranks with zombie tokens.

Gristle Grinner
Noxious Ghoul
Fallen Shinobi

If additional sacrifice payoffs and enablers are your aim, look to cards like Carrion Feeder, Gristle Grinner, God-Eternal Bontu, Noxious Ghoul, or have some fun with an unblocked decayed zombie and turn it into a surprise Fallen Shinobi. I doubt they'll see that one coming!

Graveborn Muse

Alternatively, you could simply add zombies that are already good on their own, like Graveborn Muse. It may not synergize with our theme, but drawing cards is never bad.

Supporting Spells: [[Phyrexian Altar]]: $71.00, [[Grave Pact]]: $40.00, [[Diabolic Intent]]: $34.00, [[Kindred Dominance]]: $27.00, [[Kindred Discovery]]: $26.00, [[Toxic Deluge]]: $21.00

Note: At the time of this writing, The Meathook Massacre is over $20, but once the set is released in paper, I expect the price to drop considerably.

Altar of Dementia

We got off pretty easy with creatures. Not so much with supporting spells. Phyrexian Altar hurts the most, but it's no surprise, as it enables an incredible number of combos across multiple decks. Altar of Dementia doesn't provide mana, but can produce a mill-based kill with enough supporting elements.

Bontu's Monument
Attrition
Ritual of the Machine

When it comes to sacrifice payoffs, Bontu's Monument provides another source of life-drain for repeated casting of zombies, Attrition swaps in for Grave Pact, Ritual of the Machine is a little-known oldie that can steal opposing commanders, Bloodsoaked Altar can start churning out demons, and Necromantic Selection provides yet another 'wrath that gives back.

Grimoire of the Dead

Finally, while Grimoire of the Dead may be slow, the sheer style-points earned from busting open the Necronomicon while helming a zombie deck are too irresistible to not mention.

Mana Options: [[Volrath's Stronghold]]: $120.00 (!), [[Polluted Delta]]: $50.00, [[Morphic Pool]]: $30.00, [[Unholy Grotto]]: $20.00

High Market
Memorial to Folly
Witch's Cottage

Ah, Reserved List, you strike again. The ridiculously expensive Volrath's Stronghold is a nice-to-have, but certainly not essential for our deck to function. It and little brother Unholy Grotto can be replaced via the synergistic likes of High Market, Memorial to Folly, and Witch's Cottage.

Bad River
Choked Estuary
Fetid Pools

When it comes to mana fixing, Bad River easily swaps out for Polluted Delta, but any number of budget Blue/Black lands like Underground River, River of Tears, Choked Estuary, or Fetid Pools will also do nicely.

Forgotten Creation by Izzy

I find it hard to believe someone forgot about that thing.

Wilhelt, the Rotcleaver's zombie army may not be a pretty site. Or a very sturdy one. But it can be one with the potential to grow very big, very fast. Heartbroken as he may be, you can bet Wilhelt's persistence will drive him to keep fighting for his gothic dream girl. He may never win Gisa over, but we sure can make good use of all the zombies he raises along the way. Decayed, but not forgotten. That's good old zombie determination for you.

Thanks for reading, and may your zombies never fall apart on you!

-Matt-

@Intrepid_Tautog

Limited time 35% buy trade in bonus buylist